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Obama keeps up the pressure as Senators Reid and McConnell negotiate 'fiscal cliff'

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“These include $110 billion in mandated spending cuts, known as the ‘sequester,’ unemployment benefits set to drop back to 26 weeks from a current 99 weeks, the end to a $5 million exemption for the estate tax, and a ‘patch’ to the alternative minimum tax, set to hit some 40 million families, if Congress does not act. Also on the table: a hike to the debt ceiling, now set to be breached early on Dec. 31, which the Treasury says can be delayed for weeks by emergency measures.”

When last heard from, all three principals – Reid, McConnell, and President Obama – expressed measured (very measured) optimism that the inexorable slide toward cliff’s edge could be halted, before automatic tax hikes kicked in for all Americans as millions of others lose the extended unemployment benefits that have kept them afloat through tough economic times.

But both Senate leaders face potential push-back from their own ranks.

“McConnell is unlikely to back a deal that wouldn’t win favor with House Republican leaders, though he eagerly wants a deal to take the revenue fight off the table so Congress can renew the battle over spending cuts when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling early next year,” Politico reported Sunday morning. “Reid, in the meantime, faces dueling pressure from some in his party who want a deficit-cutting deal immediately and other Senate Democrats who argue they’ll have a stronger hand in the next Congress if Washington goes over the cliff.”

Ever since he won reelection in November – running on a platform that included an increased tax rate for households earning more than $250,000 a year – Obama has had the stronger hand. Polls consistently show strong public support for raising taxes on the “millionaires and billionaires” Obama kept talking about. And most Americans are more inclined to blame congressional Republicans than they do Obama for the political hang-ups leading to the current fiscal cliff impasse.

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